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The Mast-Head: Everything Is a Scam

Wed, 09/21/2022 - 12:06

Everything is a scam. That is what I tell my friends, family, and co-workers about basically anything that comes in from an unfamiliar number or email address. “Never answer the phone,” I say to them.

The Star almost became a victim this week when an email supposedly from a member of the editorial staff came in asking that his payroll direct deposit details be changed. We responded with the usual form, which was returned nearly the minute we hit “send.” It was only when we emailed the staff member directly, to say that it had been taken care of, that the con was uncovered. He had not, in fact, asked for any such thing.

Whoever tried to get one over on us must have picked his name up from somewhere, maybe a web byline, and fired off the phony request. The perpetrator could have been in Singapore or Springs. There was no way to tell from the Gmail address he or she used to reach us.

The web is full of information about this particular scam and many others. ADP, one of the big payroll services out there, described it in a security alert last year. Cybercriminals send a fake email or even phone a human resources department requesting account changes.

These appear to use an employee’s correct name and email signature. Con artists have enough information about the real employee to impersonate them. Then, once the change is made, the employee’s subsequent pay is diverted to a fraudulent account. We caught our own instance of this several days before payday, so no harm was done. Still, the specificity of it was unsettling, hence my assertion, everything is a scam unless proven otherwise — and never click anywhere or open attachments unless you absolutely are confident in the sender’s true identity.

Fraud targeting older Americans has grown at a stunning rate. The Federal Bureau of Investigation’s most recent report on the subject found a 62-percent increase in online crimes involving people 50 and older between 2020 and 2021, in which a minimum estimated $3 billion was stolen. But it is not just us geezers; another federal agency says that 44 percent of people in their 20s report losing money this way.

The top three successful cons among older people involve computer technology, romance, and the so-called grandparent scam, in which someone pretends to be a relative or friend in trouble who needs money fast. My work email inbox gets several pleas of this sort a month. Lately, the trend has been for fake Amazon messages and threats that an email account is going to be closed.

Again, it’s all a scam, and, as an old friend always insisted, answering the phone can only bring bad news. Let it go to voice mail.


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